Jockstrap And Why Your New Favourite Celebrity is a Freak
Picture this, Reader:
You gingerly take your first step out of your pee-stained Hyde Park flatshare, feeling the cold sneaking under your microfleece and instantly regretting choosing your 10am over blissful ignorance. You feel like a freshly birthed hairless kangaroo baby ripped straight from the pouch. The November air tingles on your tender skin and there is not a thing in your stomach but the bubbling forewarning of acid reflux. Your eyes adjust to the light and immediately a yellow-and-black smear tears through your peripheral. You jump! What the f*ck was that! A wasp? A swarm of wasps?!
No! Don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s four pairs of yellow-and-black Onitsuka Tigers on the feet of four girls wearing Adidas trackies in the worst possible colourways, football scarves wrapped around their heads Babushka-style, and 3 or 4 layers of Chaps or Carhartt knits. None of them look like they have washed their hair. They are all smiling at you, and as they move to hug you, you wipe the sleep from your eyes and realise there is a Celtic F.C. scarf around your own neck, peeling gold rings adorning your fingers, that stupid dead Arcteryx bird on your own chest. You are one of them. They love you… you love them.
You remove your Airpod Maxs, they ask you what you were listening to. You show them your lock screen: I<3UQTINVU, by Jockstrap. “It’s so rogue,” you hear yourself saying, feeling as if you might feint. “It’s, like, hyperpop, but folky. And some rap. With violin.” What are you saying? Why are you dressed like this? Where lies the body of the pre-COVID twink who only wore ASOS Design and listened to Halsey’s Badlands? Has knowledge of microplastics and La Roche-Posay killed him?
Let me explain. First, by introducing you, Oh So Confused Reader, to Jockstrap. Much like the underwear, Jockstrap (an English duo made up of Guildhall graduates Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye) has a fanbase consisting of a committed minority of aficionados (in this case music snobs rather than athletes) holding their own against a louder majority of queer people. After hurtling into the periphery of alternative pop with their bawdy and avant garde 2020 EP Wicked City, the duo hit the public with their debut I Love You Jennifer B in 2022. The debut record – complex, campy, and much brighter compared to Wicked City’s sound – was adored in experimental pop circles and far beyond, earning its spot as the 15th and 7th Best Album of 2022 in Pitchfork and The Guardian respectively and being shortlisted for the 2022 Mercury Prize. In the words of Pitchfork’s Stuart Berman, I Love You Jennifer B brings the thrill back to the “internet-accelerated obliteration of genre boundaries”.
So what if now we were to metaphysically mash another layer of contrivance onto the audio-
trifle Jockstrap gave us last year? Surely the only way I could do it justice in writing would be
by repeatedly smashing my keyboard off the wall until all the keys feel out and made a silly
word on the floor. Something stupid, Internet-age, redundant, and therefore implicitly cool.
This regurgitation of I Love You Jennifer B hits you with 9 tracks that contain varying proportions of the original album tracks which they remix. I write hit as in wallop with a frying pan, as the album opens with ‘Sexy’, an aggressive retuning of the high-speed, club-ready closer of I Love You Jennifer B, ‘50/50- Extended Mix’. What follows is a similarly frenetic catalogue of rhythms, dissonant synths, and strings, under the seemingly elephantine weight of a second round of scrutiny and distortion. What this weight juices from the year-matured, sun-puckered fruit of Jockstrap’s debut is sweet and addicting.
Whether it is Ian Starr’s mouth-frothing performance on ‘Red Eye’ processed á la 10,000 Gecs (2023) or the gushing, pitchy rework of ‘Glasgow’ on the breakdown of ‘I Touch’, I<3UQTINVU sound terrible (foul!) by all prior established conventions of pop music; but its allure is potent and undeniable. And not just in a freak show, Don’t-Touch-The-Glass way, either – it’s seriously, stickily enjoyable. If I Love You Jennifer B was a glistening and sterile performance piece that won its fans through its one-step-ahead, almost precocious intricacy, I<3UQTINVU throws its glitching, TV-static body onto the stage and kidnaps the lead actor. A scene-stealer, if you would.
The record sounds messy, debaucherous, and cathartic. Songs are distilled down to primitive doing-words for their new titles (‘I Touch’, ‘I Feel’) and listeners’ patience is tested by laborious, gargling vocals on ‘Pain is Real’ before they are crushed by the noise of ‘Red Eye’. The listener is interacted with in invasive new ways, expected not just to passively experience tracks but to be pulled, pushed, and tested by them, their notions of what “sounds nice” battered and bruised and their interest peaked. The only thing made explicit here is the idea that the most valuable art is that which is never tired or “finished”. And it is these words, picket-fence words like “finished” and “nice”, which provide the antithesis to Jockstrap’s music, to Babushka scarves, to Julia Fox, and to dirt-wash jeans.
You see, I saw a TikTok some weeks ago which broached the idea of the dissolution of (fashion) trend cycles. The TikToker (who I would love to cite and who I have sourly and unsuccessfully scoured the internet for whilst planning this article) proposed that while, historically, Western fashion trends have mimicked themselves in 20-year intervals (see: 70s does 50s; 90s does 70s; 2010s does 90s; also Neda Ulaby for NPR), the recent dominion of short-form, TikTok-ified media over our cultural intake has null-and-voided this 20th Century routine. The youth’s overexposure to fashions emancipated from their source era and culture by short-form media has incited style-on-style cannibalism. As in, Uroboros-esque consumption of new trends which has ushered in the era of the microtrend (boo) and the concomitant microtrend critic (yay?).
The microtrend critic is the cynic, (s/t)he(y) who sees the trend and ‘debunks’ it, most recognisably on an eco- or socially- conscious level but, more deeply, as a new manifestation of the anti-trend. Anti-trend not necessarily coming from the same rebel-without-a-cause angle as punk or grunge, but instead loudly signalling that in such a culturally over-saturated landscape, the only way to be “cool” is to deny “finished” and “nice”, reject what looks and sound “good” (a.k.a. that which is coughed up every 20 years and fed to the consumer) and instead embrace the gross, uncool, and memorable. Consequently, we get it-girls like Julia Fox (queer, single mother, intentionally sweaty makeup) and it-boys like Timothee Chalamet (scrawny, sleepy, plays heroin addicts and gay men instead of soldiers and heroes). The culture has begun choosing these quirky, dirty, or otherwise wonky it-stylings for the limelight as the people have had their appetite for perfection sated. That’s what happens when you see 1000 examples of Perfection Manifest on your For You Page by the time you hit 17. You get bored.
All of a sudden, it may seem, the modern youth has become an audience of individuals more socially and globally conscious than ever, and equally conscious of the redundancy of perfection. Perfection is composure in a savage world, and therefore perfection is ignorant (or just cheugy). Perfection is “nice”, but “nice” just doesn’t cut it. To cut it is to be weird, to be nonsensical and confused and dirty and X-rated and still be hot. Distracted enough by the chaos of the human condition to not wash your hair, but not enough to stop posting on Instagram. Coolness is now defined by a global tribunal of hyperaware, cynical Twitter-users, and the only way to survive under their watchful eye is to exist in the celebrity-space ironically. To recognise the ludicrous irony of being human whilst sat atop an inhuman pedestal, and to make fun of it. Because this is something that such a youth populace can
Alas, casual fashion becomes an excuse to don netting and bleached eyebrows and Margiela goat hooves, online humour becomes abject nihilism, and commercial music begins to eat its own tail and sh*t out dog-barking, fizzing, wailing compositions under monikers like “Jockstrap”. And we eat it up, because it feels good! It feels amazing to throw inane rubrics of coolness, sex appeal, and style into the gutter so we can worry about the world burning and still feel sexy. So if you do happen to find yourself listening to I<3UQTINVU and finding it unsettlingly amazing, maybe it’s because you are finally loosening your grasp, turning your back on the apocalypse, and sinking your teeth into a slice of oh-so-sumptuous Uncool Pie. Or maybe it’s just great music.